daidoji_gisei: (Cooking)
My apartment smells really boozy right now. This is solely because I am cooking lentiles au vin rouge--lentils in red wine, for my fellow Anglophones. I made this a few years ago when I first got the recipe and liked it enough to think that I ought to make it again. It's taken me this long to do so because it's not often I have six cups of red wine in the house. I always have lentils, on the other hand.

Anyway, last week I remembered to grab a box of merlot (what? You don't think that the French cook their lentils in anything other than vin ordinaire, do you?) and tonight I let the cooking begin. It smells great! I have rice going in my rice cooker to serve under it--no need to waste any of that cooked-down-wine-and-aromatic-vegetables broth, after all. I should probably try it with pasta sometime as well. It makes six servings, so I will have a lot to play with.

In the meantime, my apartment smells of red wine. This is a pleasant smell but it is making me want to enjoy a glass while I'm waiting for dinner to cook. I am holding off because I really need to finish a story tonight and alcohol is not good for my writing--I need focus to write. The sacrifices I make for my art....

I made cookies in my kitchenaid last night! It was fun, except for the part where I managed to smear the creamed butter-sugar-egg yolk mixture all over the mixer. Well, I am sure I will get better at this. I baked off half the dough then and stuck the rest in the fridge because it was getting late and I wanted to get a decent night's sleep. It was still a lot of cookies, which I am planning to take in to work this week to share some holiday cheer with my coworkers. This will probably be the only batch of cookies I have time to make before Christmas, but--as I remind anyone who gives me the slightest opportunity--Christmas starts on the eve of the 24th and runs till Epiphany. So I still have a lot of time for Christmas cookies. And breads!
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
For the past few years the bakery has offered dinner rolls in the shape of a bunch of grapes. We call them 'bread sculptures', which is something of an exaggeration given my lack of artistic talent--but I can bake bread, so they come out pretty nice looking. Anyway, this year I was organized enough to make some demo models in advance, so that customers would have an idea what they looked like, and to get photographs on the website. Which means, I can show them to my friends. ~linky!~

I love making them because shaping bread is always so satisfying. Next week will be VERY VERY BUSY, but at least I'll get to make bread!
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I'm having fresh, home-made bread for breakfast right now. NOM NOM NOM.

At one time I made all my bread, but I had drifted away from that over the last ten years--when you run a bakery that makes good bread, there is less of a need. Recently, though I've decided to get back to it, if only because then I have complete control over the flavors. (Hey, I think that anise-scented breakfast toast would rock.)

It is embarrassing to admit, but my first few loaves were...less than stellar. It was frustrating, since my bread at work is of a very high quality. Then I made my decision to ignore the recipe and add water as necessary, and my breads got about 253% better. It was gratifying.

The bread I made last night has whole wheat flour, white bread flour, oat meal, and oat bran in it. I think I'll make this recipe again, though I'll tweak the salt down a bit. (I cook with very little salt, with the result that I'm really good at tasting it.) I scaled out dough for two loaves and had about a pound of dough left, so I made an impromptu coffee cake by patting it into a cake pan, covering it with sliced apples, and covering that with struesel. I had a small slice of it as part of my breakfast to check the flavor (no, really) and the rest of it I'll take to work for my staff and co-workers to munch on. This week and the next will be challenging, and home-made treat is always good for morale.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I am drinking wine and posting to my LJ after a hard day at work. This is possibly a very bad idea, but that is one of the reasons that I have a paid account--to remind myself that this is my journal and I can do whatever I want with it. So. )
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I've spent what seems like a lot of today cleaning. Sadly, I don't have much to show it because today's target was the bathroom, which means that the more public areas of my apartment are still disheveled. But I moved out everything movable, took the shower rug outside and beat it, swept and mopped the floor, sorted through the shelves and pitched or rearranged as necessary, then moved everything remaining back in. Oh, and I also got all the cobwebs down, of which there were many. (Housekeeping is yet another area in which a fail at being a girl. *sigh*) I still need to scrub the sink, but on the whole the place is now shiny and pine-scented.

My kitchen (yesterday's target) is not so clean, mostly because I keep going in and cooking things. Today I managed to limit myself to a batch of bread that I just had to make because I had decided this morning that if I wasn't going to eat the leftover hot cereal (a mix of steel-cut oats, barley and brown rice) I had to find something else to do with it. So I heated it up, added some extra water, threw some yeast and flour-type stuff in and mixed well. Tragically, after all was done and baked I discovered that I had forgotten the salt but it is pretty good tasting for all that.

I have started to experiment with ways of getting lighter-textured homemade whole grain breads, and I have no complaints about today's batch. Using my hand-mixer to do some of the kneading helps a lot, because it stops me from compulsively adding more flour in the early stages when the dough feels very sticky. Doing housework in another room while it rises also helps, because it short-circuits my impatience and gave the bread a good long time to rise. (My baking personality as a hobbyist is completely at odds with my professional one. I cannot account for this.)

Having finally had a late lunch (green beans and roast chicken, reheated under a blanket of Parmesan cheese), I'm now trying to decide that to do next. Part of me is lobbying for more cleaning. Part of me is pointing out that I have a long night of bread-making ahead of me and I should take it easy--maybe even have a nap! I might split the difference and do a sink or two of dishes--that would improve the kitchen and leave me time for a nap. Decisions, decisions.

daidoji_gisei: (Default)
Something for the Department of Writing-Related Stuff: A few weeks ago someone on the L5R Story Forum asked the S Team a bunch of writing questions, and lo! got answers. Since I know some of my flist are writerly types, I thought I'd link it here: Story Conception Questions.

Nothing important happened today, as I had it off. I have a comp day from Easter, and since I'm in the middle of training a new night baker I took it today. So I did some cleaning and a some reading and a lot of laying about. I think the laying about was good for me: March has been entirely too stressful at work and I feel uncomfortably close to shredding. I have some writing projects to be done, but having gotten a full night's sleep--two nights in a row!--I feel up to the task.
More about abs and cake )

daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I am leaving town tomorrow for the L5R tourney in KC and I don't have a deck built. So of course I spent the evening making cake. I have wondered if this is not a sign of skewed priorities, but really--if I really am unable to finish my deck before I leave town I almost certainly could borrow one from someone, but if I don't make cake, who will? And I am the Baked Good Champion. I didn't get frosting made, for several reasons, but if worse comes to worse I can buy some from work; I'm pretty sure we have both flavors made up right now.

My efficiency is being hampered by several things. I'm very tired, since I've been unable to get enough sleep this week. I'm coming down with a cold/sinus infection/something. And I have a spot of the blues, which makes me want to sit in a corner and sulk. Sulking is kind of a time-waster. So is posting to my LJ, sometimes, but at least it is movement. I guess I'll sort through my cards until the cake is cool enough to cover, and then get to bed.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
The last few days have been very uncomfortable for me--the side effects of the rabies vaccine are not fun. It's made harder, I think, by the fact that I'm generally pretty healthy and I don't generally have bad reactions to drugs. The last bad one was to the narcotic pain reliever the dental surgeon gave me after my wisdom teeth removal: it worked great the first day, and on the second day it started making me throw up every twenty minutes. It made for a very unpleasant four hours, but then it was out of my bloodstream and I stopped taking it. But stopping the rabies vaccine isn't an option.

Yesterday was a low point; I didn't have the tingling and weird vision effects that had made Sunday so interesting but the pain in my head was the worst yet. And I was tired: tired of the pain, tired of the fear. I was stressing hard over it, so much that I went into a friend's office, closed the door, and asked for a hug. I normally live in a don't-touch-me bubble of space, and my friend knows it. She gave me a big long hug and told me that I was being wonderfully brave and she admired how pro-active I was being in managing the issue. I feel neither brave nor pro-active: rabies is fatal, and that's that.

I am feeling better this morning, but I have a tetnus shot today and another rabies shot tomorrow so I'm not expecting it to last. On the other hand, yesterday I still managed to bake two batches of gorgeous-looking rice bread, so apparently I don't need a fully-functioning central nervous system in order to bake. Good to know, I think.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I'm breakfasting on left-over cornmeal blueberry muffins this morning; I'd made a batch for my lunch yesterday.

I'm not normally a muffin person, but yesterday morning while looking for something else I found a container of yogurt that was out-of-date. Now, there are a lot things that I will pitch immediately and without remorse in that situation, but at home yogurt is not one of them. It already has microorganisms in it and it is rather acidic, both of which helps keep down any of the bad spoilage organisms. (It goes without saying that I'm a lot more draconian on this issue at work.) I do prefer using old yogurt as a cooking ingredient, and the company had helpfully printed a cornbread recipe on the container. Sadly, I've made the recipe before and wasn't that impressed--but it would do as a base recipe. I increased the cornmeal slightly, added 1 T more sugar (it was already too sweet to be a proper cornbread imho, so why not?), 1 t of cinnamon, a few rasps of nutmeg and a heaping cup of frozen blueberries.

They were decent but not sublime. I think if I try again I'll decrease the wheat flour and skip the spices--I miss the corn flavor.

In other news I made it to the farmer's market Saturday morning. As is typical for May, everyone else lined up in front of the asparagus vendors while I circled around, trying to decide who had the best-looking radishes. I got some really large red ones, and some of the white icicle-shaped ones.

I was reading my copy of Larousse Gastronomique (a Christmas gift from Karin and Ami a few years back, and fun to browse) this week and learned that in France they eat radishes with butter, so I tried it Saturday night. I wasn't impressed, but the next time I bake bread I think I'll try radish-and-butter sandwiches, another variation on the theme.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
Yesterday I noticed that we had run out of salt-free whole wheat bread. This is a bread we don't offer fresh--not enough demand--but the people who need it, need it, so we keep a supply in the freezer section of grocery and bake more whenever we run out. Thus, my first task today was to bake more salt free. Tara was already busy doing something when I came in (actually, she was busy doing two or three somethings--that's how she rolls), so this time I got to bake it.

Salt has multiple roles to play in bread. The first is, it makes it taste better. Our salt-free whole wheat is identical to our regular in every respect but one, but you can easily taste the difference between the two: the salt-free is flatter to the taste. More importantly (to a baker), salt acts to strengthen the gluten strands and to slow down the yeast. This means several things. The dough for the salt-free whole wheat always feels slightly gummy in the mixing bowl, even when it has enough flour added to it. This makes it hard to judge the water/flour balance in the dough. It also means that the dough will rise very rapidly--and deflate catastrophically if the baker doesn't keep an eye on it. There's really no salvaging a dough that has over-proofed.

As a result, our salt-free bread usually comes out looking slightly short and somewhat more lumpy than our regular whole wheat. Unless I make it.

That last statement sounds vain, but bread baking in the one thing I'm willing to be vain about. When I am in the zone, I am untouchable. And if I'm making bread I'm probably in the zone.

So I mixed up the dough, adding just a handful of extra flour after six minutes kneading. I let it rise until it was a round pillow-form, and then scaled the dough and shaped it into loaves. I prepped the chocolate chip scones and cut granola bars as it rose the second time, making sure that Alex understood that when the bread was ready I was evicting his bread crumbs from my oven. (Over the years I have managed to lay down the kitchen law that bread gets right-of-way with the ovens. Because bakers do what the yeast says, and not the other way around.) When they were ready to go in--I can tell by touch--I docked them and slid them into the oven.

After 25 minutes of baking I pulled them out to rotate them. They were tall and perfectly rounded. "Ta da!" I said to Tara, showing them to her. "So that's salt-free," she said, her voice heavy with mock-skepticism. I grinned. "You saw me put the dough together." She just shook her head. I didn't think to tell her then, but I'll try to remember tomorrow: Talent is good, but skill is better. Skill takes time, that's all. Someday she will be where I am now.

In the meantime, my bad mood lightened up.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
Work was more than a little aggravating this week. We got no rolled oats in Monday's shipment from our main supplier--they were out of stock on commercial regular-cut rolled oats. They weren't going to get any in stock any time soon, so I ordered organic rolled oats for Thursday's shipment. My staff then proceeds to flounder around looking for things to do, because we are totally out of oats and about 4/5 of our most popular items call for them. I end up filling my time by doing R&D work, and both the crustless fruit pie and the sugar cookies get high marks by the Open Harvest Testing Panel. (The OHTP, by the way, consists of any and all employees I can corner. It's not the most scientific of methods, but so far it has given good results.)

Thursday's truck comes in, with no oats--they are out of stock on organic oats as well. How can a distributor that services the natural foods industry be out of oats? It isn't right! It's also something of a crisis for me, because four out of five of our A-list cookies, plus our wildly popular granola bars, use oats. Our store's buyer springs into action and calls her usual supplier of organic rolled oats, a small company started by some farmers in central Nebraska. They only deliver to Lincoln about once a month, which is fine for grocery (which has a larger storage area and only has to keep the store's bulk bins filled) but is inadequate for my needs, which is part of the reason why I normally get oats from our main distributor. Anyway, our buyer gets a hold of someone at her usual supplier and attempts to wheedle them into making a special emergency delivery to us the next day. After some checking, they determine that they can't, BUT one of their guys lives outside of Pleasant Dale, a short distance from Lincoln. If we are willing to drive out to his place to pick it up, they'll load our oats into his car to take home.

We are very, very willing, so that evening Margo and I drive out, load 300 pounds of oats into the back of her car, drive back, and carry them into the store. Rapture!

Friday was granola bar madness in the Bakery. We needed granola bars for us, the coffee shop next door, and a special order for our office manager whose daughter's diving club was having a meet this weekend and needed refreshments for various hosting needs. As it happened we didn't get them done in time for her (granola bars take forever to cool), and I ended up running the finished bars out to her at the stadium after work.

Saturday could have been bad but wasn't. I don't normally work Saturday, but one of my Saturday people needed to be written up (=minor disciplinary procedure). I had been tempted to let my assistant manager take care of it, but decided that wasn't fair to her. She's still a little new to exercising her authority and this particular case had some sticky bits, so it was not a good training exercise. Therefor, I went in to do it myself. As I had expected the employee didn't think they deserved it, but they accepted it when I explained how I saw the matter--that a ball had gotten dropped, and the write-up was a notice to all involved parties that a ball had gotten dropped and everyone was going to be more careful in the future. So that resolved peacefully.

Monday will be cookie madness, as I attempt to make all the cookies that didn't get made last week because we had no oats. I'll probably also be making gobs of granola bars again, as it is about time for coffee house #2 to put in another order. And I need to make inquiries about how much additional oats we would have to order before the Nebraska farmers would agree to make more frequent deliveries to Lincoln. Their oats are not that much more expensive than my current supplier, they are local (by Nebraska values for "local"), and they have a lot better customer service.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
Having finished my story I have a small stretch of breathing room--though I have a few dangling projects that I should jump on before the next deadline comes down the chute. I've decided that tonight I'll do the grown-up thing by paying some bills, do some housecleaning, and start my Christmas baking.

The baking part, at least, will be fun. Even though I bake for hours each week at work, I still enjoy doing it for myself at home. (Sadly, at home I must do my own dishes. *heavy sigh*) I don't normally do a lot of cookie baking, but Christmas calls out for it. Christmas cookies were, when I think about it, the start of my formation as a baker. My mom didn't like to bake (though she did make bread every once and a while) and so sometime in my early teens I realized that if my family was going to have Christmas cookies at all, I was going to have to make them myself. Odd how things turn out, isn't it?
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Today saw the re-staging of the classic struggle of Woman Versus Pizza Crust Dough. Woman emerged triumphant, though at the cost of some sore arms. I need to add a little more water to the dough, as rolling it out is hard, too hard. It's difficult to judge how much is correct amount though. With regular bread dough I can just feel the dough in the mixer and know when it's right, but the pizza crust dough gets a 24 hour rest in the cooler and that changes everything. I seem to have arrived at a taste everyone likes, so at least I can leave that part alone.

I also made a second batch of Flax Bread #1 today. It's FB#1 because Flax Bread is a new bread I'm developing, and this is the first iteration of the test cycle, and I wanted a name that would signal the customers that there will be different versions of Flax Bread to come. I'm looking forward to playing around with this--I haven't been able to work on a new bread recipe in ages. (Pizza crust doesn't count. Don't ask why, it just doesn't.) I don't expect to make anything too fancy out of it, though. Good bread doesn't need bells and whistles, and I'm not interested in making anything other than good bread.
daidoji_gisei: (Default)
I've figured out how to muck with the color scheme a little and upload a userpic. Go, me! Now I need to figure out how to get more of such, as I've always admired the tiny works of art that some people decorate their posts with. The userpic I do have (Gisei in her ghost-gift kimono) was a gift by the charming and talented Yoon Ha Lee. Blessings upon her and her house!

On a semi-related topic, this week I made pizza crust for the first time. This might seem a small thing, but I made it for a hundred or so people and I was inventing both recipe and technique as I went along, so I'm feeling pretty proud of myself. (This is a rare state, so I thought I'd mention it.) The pizza-crust-adventure was triggered by the Deli Manager, who had asked back in November if the Bakery could please make pizza crust for them so that the Deli could start offering pizza again. (The Deli used to make its own pizza crust, but that didn't work well for various reasons. I am possibly one of those reasons--long story.)

So, after much delay, a fair amount of reading up on pizza crust dough, some thought, and 28# of organic flour I started in on the project. I was pleased with the result: the flavor was good (if a little on the salty side--but I am sensitive to salt), the crumb was light and tender, and it held its shape well during the par-baking.

The only downside was that since I had to roll and press all the crusts by hand (we lack the spiffy machine real pizzerias have to do this), my arms and shoulders still ache from the work. I suppose this is really an upside though: some people pump iron, I wrestle with pizza crust. Muscle is muscle, right?


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